ATLANTA — He strolled to the podium tan and fit, a sleek blue suit with no tie and a shirt unbuttoned a couple of times. A walking billboard for deal with it.

Moments earlier, in a green room behind the main stage, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey marveled at the audacity of Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin.

“I didn’t wear a tie today,” Kiffin said. “(Sankey) is like, ‘Man, I’ve always wanted to do that.’ I’m like, well, don’t just do things the way they were done before.”

Welcome to Ole Miss, circa 2022. It’s all new — and most certainly not like it has been done before.

New coordinators, new quarterback, new skill players on offense for a program that, by the end of Year 2 under Kiffin, was 1 victory from setting the school record for single-season wins.

This, of course, begs the question: Did Ole Miss hit its ceiling under Kiffin too soon?

“What he did there last year was remarkable,” an SEC coach told me. “Now what?”

Here’s what: You zig when everyone else zags.

When you’re coaching a program that historically struggles to win (8 double-digit win seasons since 1902), you think differently.

You don’t continue to bang your head against the recruiting wall, knowing full well Ole Miss — for the most part — can’t trade blows with SEC heavyweights in high school player procurement. All NIL money being equal (and most of it is), Ole Miss isn’t annually at the top of the food chain for elite recruits.

That means a trip to your friendly neighborhood transfer portal, where you pick up as many as 11 projected starters for this fall. There’s no time to complain about the loss of what was, only finding solutions for what is.

“We don’t sit around and worry about that. We try to be creative,” Kiffin said. “We don’t think outside the box, we just create a new box. If that’s what kids care about and look at, we don’t do things the way they were done before. That’s how we would operate anywhere — but especially at Ole Miss. You need to be that way to have a chance.”

So Kiffin loses highly-regarded offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby to Oklahoma, and he hires Charlie Weis Jr., who has never been a coordinator at a Power 5 program.

He loses the strength of a wildly undervalued running game — the Rebels rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and 33 TDs last year — and signs a former 5-star (Zach Evans) who never got comfortable at TCU, and an undersized overachiever from SMU (Ulysses Bentley).

Then came the program-defining move: Signing former USC quarterback and 5-star recruit Jaxson Dart to compete with Luke Altmyer for the opportunity to replace Matt Corral. The same Corral who, over the past 2 seasons, made Kiffin’s return to the SEC (and out of coaching purgatory) much smoother than it should’ve been.

And here is where we return to the idea of Ole Miss hitting its ceiling under Kiffin, because Corral was a fantastic college quarterback.

Let me underscore that: Corral was fantastic.

He put up ridiculous numbers in Kiffin and Lebby’s offense, but more than that, he was an unquestioned leader and singular focus for every other player on the team. Tough and talented, he never flinched — and neither did Ole Miss.

When Corral moved, they moved. When he played at the top of his game, they played at the top of their game.

When he was forced out of the Sugar Bowl against Baylor with an ankle injury, they couldn’t respond — and lost a chance to win a record 11th game of the season.

So let’s recap: new offensive coordinator, new skill players, new quarterback. A big ol’ problem.

“A lot of new faces, and that’s exciting,” Ole Miss wideout Jonathan Mingo said. “Because we have a lot of guys with a lot to prove.”

Fortunately for Ole Miss, every one of Kiffin’s teams at Tennessee, FAU and Ole Miss had significant questions at quarterback — and had a player with something to prove.

Jonathan Crompton at Tennessee, Jason Driskel and Chris Robison at FAU, and Corral. All had their best seasons with Kiffin.

Corral was a talented but petulant player his first 2 seasons at Ole Miss, before Kiffin changed the way he thought about the game and redirected his energy.

Now he has started the same process with Dart, who played well at times at USC as a freshman — but didn’t separate from Altmyer this spring. Ole Miss has 2 quarterbacks with 1 year of college football experience, who have combined to complete 57% of their passes and throw 10 TDs against 7 INTs.

If Kiffin makes it work this time around, he may as well stroll into Media Days next year in board shorts and a t-shirt.

“Why are we supposed to wear a tie?” Kiffin said. “Just because it was done before?”